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Post Partisan
Posted at 12:43 PM ET, 04/14/2011

Obama’s free lunches


President Obama correctly noted in his deficit speech Wednesday that “politicians are often eager to feed the impression that solving the problem is just a matter of eliminating waste and abuse – that tackling the deficit issue won’t require tough choices.” Yet when you actually read the White House fact sheet on his plan, you find that it relies an awful lot on cutting waste and abuse. 

On defense spending, the president lauded Secretary of Defense Robert Gates for finding “substantial waste and duplication” at the Pentagon, and promised to find more such easy cuts -- pending “a fundamental review of America’s missions, capabilities, and our role in a changing world,” of course.

On Medicare and Medicaid, “the president is proposing additional reforms. . . to strengthen these critical programs by reducing waste, increasing accountability, promoting efficiency, and improving the quality of care.” He’ll be “cutting unnecessary prescription drug spending,” and “recover[ing] erroneous payments from Medicare Advantage.” And when it comes to other mandatory spending, such as farm programs, he’ll “enact anti-fraud measures.” 

He’s bold enough to suggest tax increases, but only on the Warren Buffets of the world. Nothing that would hit the middle class, like, say, a gas tax.

I’m not saying there isn’t a lot of waste, abuse and other unjustifiable spending. In fact, Social Security’s disability program (SSDI) appears to be spiraling toward insolvency in half a decade or so, as more and more people have turned to it during the recession as a kind of substitute for unemployment benefits or welfare. Much of this increased demand is, ahem, inappropriate in light of the $125 billion-per-year program’s intended purposes. The Wall Street Journal reports that, in Puerto Rico, the number of SSDI recipients has grown 25 percent in the last decade, even as the island’s population shrank slightly. Last year, the Government Accountability Office found that 1,500 federal workers were collecting Social Security disability benefits.

However, Obama’s only comment on SSDI Wednesday was a pledge, in the fact sheet, to “maintain robust disability and survivors’ benefits.”

Give credit to Obama for proposing tighter Medicare cost-containment measures than many liberal Democrats would like. But, too often, his plan violates his own rule against promising the voters a free lunch.

By  |  12:43 PM ET, 04/14/2011

 
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